The Battle For Breakthrough Innovation

From a growth and innovation perspective, one should never view the U.S. market as mature. As the most developed market in the world, it's a battle for breakthrough innovation, even in a downturn.

With increasing pressure on innovation spending during the down cycle, companies are at risk of over-relying on a pipeline of short-term idea extensions that at best deliver lackluster brand extensions while, in most cases, cannibalizing existing business. If they want to be out front at the upturn or want to continue to inspire emerging market opportunities, senior innovation marketing managers need to keep pushing for real, incremental growth from innovation. To be successful, you have to focus closely on what goes into the innovation pipeline and how you inspire and manage "Upfront Innovation."

We see five typical approaches, or briefs, to "Upfront Insight Innovation." A sophisticated client typically uses all of these approaches to inform brand growth priorities and business strategy.



The first brief is finding new "Breakthrough Insight Platforms." A platform is broader than a single idea and, therefore, has great business potential across an addressable market. It can inspire the organization to multiple ideas over a period of time, so it's beyond the one-shot deal. The platforms should lead with emotional, functional benefits or sensory-based (attribute or design) insights, but they should be holistic in the way they capture consumer insight and business opportunity.

The second brief relates to creating a new "Breakthrough Brand." Innovation is often briefed through the lens of an existing brand, when the way to truly go after the new opportunity is unconstrained by existing equities. Companies often cede this space to the entrepreneur and shy away from the investment in a new brand. Or, we often see companies trying this in a one-off, ad hoc manner when it requires consistency and continuous effort. It's a holistic approach to defining the integrated core target, brand positioning and activation opportunity, and its long-term effort.

A good example is the gum Orbit. A clear breakthrough brand positioning was identified, and the launch was backed successfully from a very senior level over a long period of time. But even if you don't actually launch under a new brand, this can really inform your innovation strategy. In recent launch work for a new mini yogurt drink, we developed ideas under new and existing brands. Not only did this enrich the ideas that were finally launched under portfolio brands, but it allowed the company to understand the competitive threat and the current brand advantage before the company invested in shifting consumer behavior.

The third approach is "Branding Up": determining how you're positioning an existing brand to drive price and quality to add value to a category -- for the brand and the retailer. Central to this approach is defining the distinct target around which you can focus the brand, e.g. Hardees Burgers is a great example of a brand that achieved this by focusing on young, hungry guys.

The fourth is "Cross Pollination" of categories to inspire upfront innovation. This is a rich fertile space for insights and ideas. It can allow you to absorb highly relevant secondary benefits into your category, e.g. Skincare pulling in color benefits. Its can also allow you to cross-pollinate categories, e.g. the Swiffer. The essential alchemy is created when you pull expertise onto the team that can interpret insight and cross-pollinate across adjacent categories. The best example we know is a foods company looking to expand into beauty benefits, into the world of "beautiful food."

The fifth is "Breakthrough Solutions," one of the hardest areas to handle because so often innovations lead with a new technology that requires a behavior shift from the consumer. Organizations get very excited without understanding the true consumer translation of the new opportunity or how capable they are of creating new solutions. Ideas need to develop and be positioned for leading edge consumers, and/or "consumer experts" and then softened for the broader market opportunity.

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